For the past 36 years, in one form or another, I have been a teacher. I began this journey when our now soon-to-be 40 year old son was 4 years old and carried on from there to our two daughters, various nieces and nephews, and culminated with my working as an English and History teacher at The Regent Academy for more than a decade. I retired from TRA last year, kind of. I am now teaching a class consisting of three of our seven grandchildren. It is wonderful!
Classes here in Florida begin in August. I don’t know why. Here, like most everywhere else, August is the hottest month of the year. In New Jersey, we at least waited until the beginning of September, right after Labor Day. September makes more sense, but when in Rome or in this case Orlando…And so, this past July I was asked by a former fellow TRA teacher and friend if I would consider substitute teaching four of her classes on August 17th. My first thought is not always very practical and I tend to think things will be fun because I don’t really “think” much. Always being one who enjoys helping out, I said “Sure”!
Did I remember that she was a Science teacher? Yes. Did I remember that I was, and always will be an English and History teacher? Yes. Did I think about what teaching Science might entail? Nope. My main thought was that I might get to see some of my former students and some of my teacher friends. My main thought was not about what I might be teaching. Lori, the Science teacher, and I met at Starbucks to go over the classes. She told me it would be easy stuff, silly me, I believed her somehow forgetting that this is her “thing”. We went over everything, she gave me formulas and calculations, promised me answer keys, and I thought I was all set. Can I tell you that there are times when I get so excited about one aspect of a situation that I forget about stuff? Stuff like I stink at math and I was going to be teaching these kids how to do calculations.
August 17th came and I was excited! I got to ride in with my brother, just like old times! I was in a classroom with no windows and I didn’t care! I opened the teacher cabinet, pulled out all of the needed materials, and set up my classroom for the day! I was confident! I was thrilled! I was completely out of touch with reality! I opened the top folder left for me by Lori and there it was. A pink paper with a big letter “N” and a sticky note, “Please place this on the North wall.”
It is at this point that I would like to explain, not only do I stink at math, but I am also very directionally challenged. To me whatever direction I am facing is “North”. I’m not sure why. But, I do have a one-in-four chance of being right! So, that’s pretty good odds, right? Anyway, I called my brother to find out which wall was “North”. I glanced through the packets for each class and decided I would just have to wing it. I’m a fairly decent BS’er, and decided, once again, that I’d be fine.
The first class was Elementary Science – Gravity and Planets of the Solar System. I was fine. Fortunately, I do remember a thing or two about planets, thought the kids had to tell me that there are now only 8 and not 9. My condolences to Pluto.
Second class, Earth/Space Science – Reading Maps. We talked about different types of maps here, World, Political and Physical. I can handle maps, as long as nobody is asking for direction, and again, I was fine.
Third class, General Science – Using a Protractor to Measure Angles. Yup. I was screwed. I am almost 62. It has been at least 50 years since I’ve used a protractor. And, chances are pretty good that when this was actually taught to me, I was either daydreaming or talking to a friend. I was that kid. Fortunately, the Lord is gracious and kind to me and I had a very intelligent Teacher’s Assistant in that class. I called her to the front, showed her what little skills I had with a protractor and asked for a quick refresher course. I am happy to say, it all came back and I was able to continue without too much of a hitch. Whew!
Fourth class, Physical Science – Speed/Velocity Whole Group Class Lab. This was the last class of the day, I no longer have a Teacher’s Assistant, and I was thinking along the lines of “saving the best for last” idea, that this would somehow be my best class yet. The “Whole Group Class Lab” sounded fun! The kids had to put together a Hot Wheels track. That was fun! Then we sent down three different cars and a small red ball and measured the speed of each. Also fun! We collected Data with measuring tapes and stop watches. Not too bad…And then, we had to do calculations. Even with a “no math mind,” I wasn’t too concerned with the calculations because Lori had the formulas all written out for me. All I had to do was plug in the numbers and voila! What could go wrong? Only one thing. Me.
The first was a Speed Calculation: Distance divided by Time equals Speed, we had no problem with that one and I was feeling pretty confident in myself. Only one calculation left! The second calculation was Velocity. In my mind Velocity and Speed are the same thing, but evidently they are not. Velocity Calculation: Displacement (Wait. What??? I looked that one up.) divided by Time plus Direction equals Velocity. This one was our undoing on every level…
While writing the calculation on the board, I wondered how in the world we were to do, “plus direction”? I thought it, but I didn’t say anything, half hoping that maybe the kids would know. And then, one of the students, a boy named Irving, asked.
“Mrs. Chin, how do we add direction?”
“That’s a very good question, Irving.”
Isaac raises his hand and stands up, all 13 year old, bean pole, 6 feet of him. Isaac’s mother is a math teacher! I believe I am about to be saved.
“Mrs. Chin! I know the calculation for Velocity!”
“Great, Isaac! What is it?”
“Displacement divided by Time plus Direction equals Velocity!”
“Isaac, we have that. Do you know how to add the Direction part of it?”
“Well, I don’t know that.”
And so I did what any clueless teacher would do with only 20 minutes left of class, I told the kids to save their Data in their folders and ask Mrs. Mauter (Lori), how to do it next week. And then let them pack up to go home.
Velocity, it’s really not that big a deal!